RP:Wading Through Styx and Into Tartarus
Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: Lionel and Penelope walk toward oblivion. An old friend emerges in an eleventh-hour miracle. But Kahran's evil transcends anything that any of them could have imagined.
The Northern Sage
Lionel || It was dusk. The orange glow of the setting sun pierced past the old oaks of the Northern Sage, dispelling pockets of the gathering shadows for a few more fading moments. The moons were coming into view and the first of the night’s stars began to twinkle. The forest was abuzz with the chirps of birds and cicadas... and Lionel O’Connor only had ears for Kahran. In Lionel’s mind, the only place that could be worse for the dark lord to ambush him was the Tranquility. That would mean the deaths of his family, however estranged they’d become. ‘Unacceptable,’ Lionel thought bitterly, clasping his right hand into a fist. But a battle here at Yerrel’s hut was nearly as damning. Risking Penelope’s life like that -- somehow it didn't occur to the Catalian that her life was at risk for tagging along with him anyway -- was not something he would condone. At least if she were with him yet safely hidden she’d have a fighting chance of escape. And her tutor, Yerrel? He wouldn’t be endangered at all. ‘What about cities, you fool? Thousands of lives would be lost. Surely, that’s worse.’ And surely it was. But Lionel felt more strongly this evening about those closest to him. Maybe he always had. Maybe that was only natural. He didn’t know and didn’t care. As he removed the bandages from his wrists and scarred, exposed backside, the only thing he knew for sure was that tonight was the night that he was going to die.
Lionel || Desperately, Lionel wished he’d had more time. With more time, he could have told his sister where he’d been and why tonight was the end. He could have told Brand to keep his eyes open for enemy ships while at sea, because even if Lionel slew Kahran, his forces would remain. With more time, he could have learned the whereabouts of Esche -- or Rorin. The young paladin had looked up to Lionel almost from the moment they met; something like guilt tripped Lionel up as he clothed himself all in black and reached for Hellfire. Rorin had wanted little more than to stand beside him in this fateful duel, to give his all in the name of a cause. ‘I’m sorry, my friend.’ The thought didn’t ease Lionel’s mind but at least it was an earnest thing, a kind of half-hearted piece of closure. There were others. Krice, Meri, Hildegarde. Beldur, Encara, Niix. Valrae… and Caedan. Lionel had returned to Lithrydel nearly four years ago because of Caedan Navarre. She had vanished, but ever did she stalk his brain. Torturing his every nightmare for the sins he had long ago committed. ‘Well, Caedan. This is it. If you’re perched up in one of those trees somewhere, I hope you get a good view of the agony awaiting me.’ For the first time, Lionel made a noise to signify his busy mind. It was a snort, accompanied by a cynical smirk. “Reminiscing,” he said to Penelope, “can be a royal bitch.” He shook his head and holstered his cursed blade to his back. Its sheath was in tatters, so the warm steel was bare.
Lionel || Outside, the gathering shadows were no longer pierced by light. The wilderness had quickly crept toward pitch black, the air was frigid with an early winter, and the world was lit only by the hollow stars above. “It’s time,” Lionel told Penelope. “He’ll be coming soon.” Somehow he knew it to be true. “We need to be away from this place. We need to leave now.”
Penelope :: It had been a day since the metallic-armed elf ran away after telling him that she had ‘despised’ him. The woman felt like she was in the wrong, but perhaps, she was giving Linken justice. Either way, she still had someone else to take care of. Someone who had a more urgent cause. Lionel. The warrior. The girl had been whipping something up in the kitchen of Halifax Roots, so he can nourish himself to greater health. The woman had made him seasoned chicken with greens with some fruity herbal mixed drink on the side that probably had some sort of medicine to heal him. She takes the tray over to the hut where the man rest, and she lays the tray by his bedside. The herbalist goes on and adjusts the curtains, waters and feeds some idle plants while he stews in the corner. Well, only until he snorts and grasps her attention. Moss eyes flick over to him and a small grin appears on her lips. “Tell me about it,” she says lightly before nearing him. She watches his movements closely to see how he was moving. He appeared to be getting stronger again. The mention of time makes her smile fade. She knew what was going to come. “Right…” Her silken voice trails and she moves to another corner of the hut to slip on a coat. The doe-eyed girl knew of the dangers that was to come, and she was not going to put the healer’s hut in danger with other people who needed assistance. “Where do we go?”
Rorin || The old woman ushered the young man across the darkening forest floor. Enveloped by the wax coated coat, Rorin tried not to let Mulgrew’s knowing smirk get to him, despite how irked he quickly became by her enigmatic silence. “What is this really about? Bringing me out here now and barely telling me anything-” his last word trailed off as he turned to see she was no longer beside him, and before he could express his frustration into the empty night the point of his half-elven ears twitched with the sound of someone’s voice. Turning about, the boys silver eyes glittered in the dark. He could hardly believe what he heard. “Lionel?” He whispered into the dark, walking into the clearing of Yerrel’s hut in the Sage Forest, sure that he had been walking through Larket’s eternal wood moments before. It had been perhaps months since he had seen the old hero, a man of legend- the kind that had inspired Rorin to take up the path of the paladin when he was still a child here in Sage. Rorin heard that Lionels party had disappeared into the shadow portal some time ago while Rorin was still busy infiltrating Larket and through all that had transpired there since he had begun to feel the shadow of doubt coming on that threatened to snuff the flame of hope. As the pilgrim came into the clearing however his smile began to fade. Lionel was alive. But barely. There was a grimness to him, a cold front carried on his shoulders like stone. Rorin looked at the woman next to him, and froze on the path, not knowing what to say. He already knew, the night was going to be long, and full of terrors.
Lionel could have suggested dozens of destinations. Somewhere remote was all that mattered. “Forward,” he replied. “As far from civilization as possible.” He turned and looked at Penelope directly for the first time since before he rose from the bed on which he’d rested. “Thanks for the chicken.” He shrugged. There must have been something better for him to say. But this was the plain and honest way of it; the chicken was delicious. The rest of Penelope’s actions -- healing him, traveling with him, always having been there for him when it mattered most -- Lionel was grateful for it all. Words weren’t necessary. His azure eyes said it best. The Catalian took one swift step and then the next. He could see his breath in the cold air ahead of him. More steps were taken. His pace picked up the further he went. A raven flew overhead, its avian silhouette crossing over the moon and then vanishing into black. Twigs snapped nearby, prompting Lionel to tense up and twist around to see the cause of the commotion: a rabbit nibbling the grass. Lionel swallowed hard and felt the first beads of cold sweat forming on his forehead. Onward. More steps now; he and Penelope were coming to the edge of the clearing. Soon they would be in a darkness that only Hellfire’s red glow could disperse. When Rorin emerged from a thin wisp of light that seemed almost to stretch from the heavens, it was all Lionel could do to gape. “Is this a trick?” His voice was inquisitive, demanding. It would have been just like Kahran to jape before murder. “Is it truly you?”
Penelope already had a satchel that was prepped and ready to go on their voyage. Wherever that may be. Her face remains stoic at the ill thought of what was about to come. What Lionel was about to do. ‘Forward’. She would nod before catching his plain words of gratitude and slipping the bag over her small frame. The Catalian’s eyes finally resting on her. Words were never necessary. The woman did not have to do anything but blink and dip her head before she strides along behind him. The herbalist walks beside him in silence. Just the sound of twigs and crunching leaves beneath their feet. A faint snarl from Delilah in the distance. A stabbing sensation would hit her back every time Lionel flinched, however, the woman knew how to contain herself and would gather her composure. Then, a strange man in the dark appears and the girl has her grip tightened around her bag before Lionel recognizes him. The moon hits the man’s visage just right and the woman remains silent at the coincidental reunion. The herbalist remains a shadow. A foot behind the warrior at all times.
Rorin thought his mouth had gone too dry to speak. “Hey there, Commander. I uh.. I don’t know. Maybe this is all some crazy dream…” Rorin looked over his shoulders, trying to discern the reality of the night as it began to settle in around them. “What are you doing here? Why are you… what happened? People thought you were dead. You’ve been gone for *months* and I couldn’t even look for you. I… you-” Rorin wanted to be angry. He wanted to scream and shout and cry- Lionel was alive. He’d been alive this whole time. Rorin had fought side by side with him in the assault on Larket, he’d gone with him to the ends of the earth to face the terrible remnants of Haath, and here he was. Alive. “Where the hell have you been?! You- you- gigantic ass! You complete and total-” the boy nearly tore out his hair. “The world has gone to complete s*** and you disappear?! People are worshipping Vakmatharas and burning witches at the stake- you- I- the world- THE WORLD needed a hero and you were never there! You… left me- us. Alone. The things I’ve seen… so much is going on. The chaos realm, and people coming back from the dead and- it just- it’s been so hard.” Rorin didn’t know what he wanted more, to punch him, or give him a hug. “Khitti’s been running everything since you’ve been gone. I guess. I don’t know. We all just sort of sat on our hands and waited for you to get back, to be honest. Everyone’s been doing everything *but* anything actually useful. Even me. We were all lost without you, you big jerk. So now what the hell is going on?” More than angry or relieved, really he was just tired. Worn from all the work he had put in with no one to help him. No one to rely on. Trying to save the world was exhausting, and it definitely wasn’t a one man job.
Lionel || If there were a better way to quash Lionel’s doubt that this was the real Rorin, he could scarcely think of what it was. There had never been a more genuine outburst from the lad in his life. Lionel felt Rorin’s anger in full. “I’m sorry.” To think; he had only just apologized to Rorin through thought. It was a gift, however brief, that he could say the words aloud. “I’m sorry, but there’s simply no time for it. For any of it. For explanations. For guilt. For shame. For you to deck me in the face. I was captured. I escaped. And I’m minutes away from ending this war through my sacrifice.” He patted Rorin on the shoulder gently. “So save it for the funeral, will you?” A real smile lit up Lionel’s face now. “And come with us. I can’t do this on my own, pal.” Rorin’s appearance couldn’t have possibly been factored in, but Lionel already had his theories as to how and why it happened. Whether or not he was right, he was certain it was a necessary change in plans. “When life hands me Rorins,” the Catalian added dryly, stepping into the shadows that awaited them, “I’ll make Kahranade.”
Penelope wanted to jump in as the paladin before them began to rain a heavy reaction over the blonde warrior. Everything he was saying made her upper lip twitch. Lionel was missing for months? The woman finally shows her freckled face within the moonlight. “Easy, easy,” she tried to suggest in her soft ways to the paladin before them, but she understood his anger at the warrior. Tonight was probably not the night to get angry at the missing man. Especially when the missing man was on death row. Maybe Lionel was already dead. Though, that thought is put to rest as Lionel stands his own ground to the new company. A friend. The emotions swelled between the two and this put the healer at ease. The suggestion of Rorin joining also made this collision easier to process. There was trust between the two. Long lost friendship. Possible funerals. Her head was almost spinning. “Please,” she adds in to agree with the warrior. She would agree that Lionel could not do the venture on his own. More hands equals better outcome. There was always a hint of hope with the girl.
Rorin was dumbfounded as he followed the pair’s footsteps. “W-WHAT?! That’s the best you can do?!” He was absolutely furious and astounded as he continued to shout, “what the hell are you talking about you idiot?! That doesn’t even make sense! You were supposed to come back you jerk, not go on a suicide mission! If I wasn’t here right now we wouldn’t even… you wouldn’t have even gotten to say goodbye…” Rorin tried to think of the cryptic words Mulgrew had said to him as she brought the paladin here. What was she trying to tell him? Was there a way to stop Lionel from throwing away his life? Was he merely meant to witness? Or was there something else he was meant to do? “You’re gonna live, damnit. I know I can’t convince you to give up or stop this stupid crusade but… I’m gonna do everything I can to keep you alive until it’s over. You said there was no time, but I see you’ve already got someone else going with you. Are you sure? There’s no way to stop and at least get Khitti or Brand involved? They started this whole journey with you, shouldn’t they be there to finish it?” Anger left him, and an excitement began to take its place. His mind honed in on all the variables and he echoed Penelope’s previous thought. “At least tell me you know where we’re going.”
Lionel smiled sadly at Rorin. In Rorin’s shoes, Lionel would have had at least as many questions, and his voice would have been just as loud or louder. Knowing this didn’t dull the pain. Destiny was at hand; Charon continued rowing him down across the River Styx. Naught but Tartarus awaited. Into the black Lionel went, trusting that Penelope and Rorin would follow. Hellfire cast its deep reddish glow, lighting up like a faded beacon for the wayfarers to live by. “If Mulgrew were kinder, she’d have sent Khitti and Brand along with you.” The more he thought about it, the more certain he was that that strange witch had brought Rorin before him. No other hypothesis compared. As soon as he spoke those words, however, Lionel felt mistaken -- it was a mercy, leaving Lionel’s sister and her husband elsewhere. They had a child to raise… and a multitude of cross-realm problems to handle on their own. “Kahran is coming. He’s almost here. I know it. Rorin, listen to me, please.” Lionel continued walking as his tone took on a more sorrowful note. “He wants me removed from the playing field because I discovered how to destroy him. It’s through Halycanos -- but not the sword. Not Hellfire, but the Ishaarite spirit dwelling within my heart and soul. He’s coming to finish me so that his armies can blanket the world. I’m letting him have me so that he and I can exit stage left together. There simply isn’t time for anything else. Stand with me. Do whatever you wish in a bid to prevent my death; I’d be a fool to say no to either of you. But I know what awaits me. So ready your sword. And live a fuller, richer life when I’m gone.” Every syllable felt like a sting upon his lips, but Lionel knew it had to be said. Surrounded by the sounds of the forest, with the trees too thick overhead to let in the stars, Lionel and his dear friends marched toward oblivion.
Penelope did indeed follow behind the two. The woman let them have their moment of reunion. She let Lionel explain himself to Rorin. Explain the situation at hand. The woman then brushes by Lionel before adding. “And we will do –everything- to try to help you. Even if your fate is grim,” she stares forward into the dark abyss of the forest. The woman blinks and then glances at Rorin. “You know how stubborn he is… he should actually be resting,” she gives a glare towards the warrior. “But he knows Kahran better than any of us ever will, so I would just listen to the man.”
Rorin had he been honest, was looking for a slightly less poignant answer and something a little more pleasant. No one ever battled on sunny hill tops anymore no, nowadays they always had to fight in bits of shadowy abyss. Suppose that makes it a bit easier to clean up, but it sure made it less inviting, and when it was between life and death and you had to choose, well, it was pretty easy to guess where most people would want to be, but in this case practicality was less a matter of choice than epic scenery and drab foreboding hellscapes. Rorin averted his eyes when Lionel mentioned the mystic giant and chewed away at Penelope's words. “Well it’s not like he could grow old, settle down, and retire..” with a sigh and a furrow of his already naturally pitiable expression, Rorin for a moment wondered if he would someday share the same fate. Destined to live for far too long and end up taking his pupil-child on a suicidal adventure. It suddenly occurred to him that in almost none of the stories he’d read as a boy, did a hero ever die peacefully old and surrounded by loved ones in bed, and what that would mean for him. Shaking the image from his head, the paladin steeled his resolve and readied himself for Lionel’s End. Truth be, he was glad he could be at the man’s side in his final hour, just as he promised he would those few years ago. “Light be with us,” the pilgrim prayed as they headed on into darkness.
Lionel || Through the darkness they walked, silent now as the weight of these stakes took its toll on the shoulders of their souls. How many moments passed, Lionel could not say. His mind was fixated on this finale of his choosing. The snapping of sticks beneath their feet, the shrill hoots of owls in the distance, the swaying of leaves against the wind. The coming of fresh-falling snow from a starry sky that had grown cloudy in its absence from their eyes. They had come upon a clearing, and Hellfire’s glow was not bright enough to paint a picture of what next awaited them; there was a fog ahead, and inevitably there was further forest behind it. “You know,” Lionel said abruptly. “They always prattle on about leaving no regrets when you’re headed to the next life or whatever. I never much thought about that and there isn’t time to make amends of just about anything. But I suppose there’s one thing I can cross off the bucket list before the end.” Without warning, he turned to face Penelope, kissing her. It was passionate, but it was quick enough that it might have seemed a facade. Afterward, Lionel took a deep breath and led them into the clearing.
Lionel || And then they were trapped. A vortex of shimmering magics made a mockery of Hellfire’s glow, sending cascading reflections of it back at the party and bathing them in it. A patchwork of glistening crystals harder by far than any diamond, this prismed prison extended skyward and out of sight. Breaking out of it was out of the question; their only hope was to pray it would disappear if the enemy were somehow vanquished. The air grew thick with smoke that was not smoke. It didn’t stifle their breathing, but it seemed to slow them down. More urgently, it felt wrong somehow, as if evil itself was permeating the open field. It sent odd tingles across their skin at first, but before long it felt not unlike tiny razor blades shredding their flesh. Their flesh remained intact, and even their skin was evidently none the worse for wear, but the sensations felt vividly, voraciously real.
Lionel || But it was what was ahead of them that felt most painful of all. Clad in a luxurious scarlet robe trimmed with gold, Kahran stood sneering at the far end of the spacious field in which they were imprisoned. He wasn’t alone. In fact, when the fog cleared, it immediately became obvious that there were hundreds inside the field, and most of them were hanging by some vile, invisible thread like corpses that swayed like dolls. Yet they were alive, each and every one of them, their eyes closed as if in slumber. Many were strangers, likely village-folk and city-dwellers from across the realm. But some… some had faces unmistakably familiar. There was Khitti. Beside her, Brand. Oline behind them. Linken two rows back from there. Meri was at the far western edge of the seemingly endless array. Donovan wasn’t far from the scion, and Yerrel was to the right of him. They were the faces of all those that each of the three travelers of tonight’s void held dearest. All of them. And there was something about that smoke that was not smoke that told Lionel, Penelope, and Rorin that this was somehow very much real. Their spirits were hanging by those threads, and if they died up there, they would die wherever their bodies presently slept or sauntered.
Lionel || Kahran’s illusion of a perfect face did not quit sneering as he stirred. He moved forth slowly, deliberately. A tall, well-built woman in sapphire-plated armor stood beside him, an ugly scar across her face coming into view now. It was General Renne, a thorn in the Alliance’s side several times over. She didn’t speak; she simply lifted her hulking claymore and let that be greeting enough. From the smoke emerged two eerie specters; one was tall and thin and tan-skinned through its own creepy shadowy figure and the other was shorter and seemed to radiate a sickly yellow. It drew a wicked scythe as its blood-red eyes stared like daggers. The tan one wordlessly drew an ax. And even they were not alone -- huge, purple-skinned beasts now emerged, six in all and each of them ridden by wraiths. It was a veritable armada that awaited them here tonight.
Lionel || “You shouldn’t have brought outside help,” Kahran spoke, his words spreading through the air like a distorted bell. “You compelled me to do the same. Khasad and Elazul are long since slain, but I believe you will find their apparitions suitably invincible.” He gestured toward the ax-wielder and its scythe-equipped companion. “As for Renne, she’s been looking forward to this for a very long time. I trust you’re familiar with some of those whose lives quite literally dangle in the air above; forgive me, but as you’ve spoken ad nauseum, Lionel, there is no time -- I’ve no time to introduce you to the rest. Suffice it to say, they’re innocents, one and all, and I will kill them before your eyes.” He paused, lifting a black, serrated blade from its sheath. “That said, I wasn’t sure how much you would care, so I brought along someone a bit more… tragic.” Another gesture; now there dangled, isolated from the rest, a woman who looked every bit akin to Lionel’s late wife, Alexia. Lionel felt like vomiting as soon as he saw; his every muscle suddenly burned in a way that he could never have imagined. His world spun and he spat, his legs threatening to give way. “You bastard,” he said simply. “It’s not real. It isn’t real. She’s dead. She’s been dead eleven years, you lying sycophant.” Kahran shrugged. “Believe as you wish. What’s left of her is as good as dead, indeed, if you should dare resist what I am about to do to you. And to think, I had kept that shell of a woman safe for so long -- I kept her safe for you. So what will you do? If you want her to live, I suggest… you die.” In a flash, the dark lord spun across the night. Lionel could have let it happen; he could have saved whatever that was that lay helpless in the sky. He wanted more than anything in the world to atone for the sins of a decade past. He felt, vibrantly, that there was truly something of Alexia Isis out there whose fate was tied inexorably to his next action. A stray thought occurred to him -- he had just kissed Penelope Halifax.
Chuckling madly, cursing the gods for their uncanny sense of cruelty, Lionel lifted his blade... and resisted.